Healing from Performance Orientation


Performance Orientation is one of the most insidious blocks against healthy creativity. If you can escape it, then you’ll not only have more fun; but you’ll also be way more effective in the spiritual warfare that God wants to wage through your creativity!

Performance Orientation can be defined as “the inner compulsion to please yourself or others through perfectionism and unhealthy striving.” If you’ll take a moment to think about that, you’ll see how it can stifle genuine, godly creativity.

I used to be extremely performance-oriented. As an example of how bad it was, let me tell you about when I used to work on a farm. One day my boss sent me out into a horse pasture that needed to be used as a parking lot for a big event coming up. To make things clean for the visitors, all the manure had to be shoveled into wheelbarrows and hauled away. Nearly ten horses, a few donkeys, and a couple cows all shared this field, so there was plenty to shovel!

Knowing that my boss really liked speedy work, I zipped through the first quarter-acre. Seeing his truck rolling toward me, I was rather pleased with myself and couldn’t wait to hear his words of affirmation.

Instead, he said this: “You’re going too fast–there’s no way you could have caught everything! Go back and do a better job.”

It was a big blow to my ego, but I wanted to perform well to please my boss. So naturally, I hurried back to the beginning and cleaned up what little I missed.

By the time I got half-way through the pasture, it was nearing my time to go home for the day. I had gotten my scooping down to a science! Not a bit of manure was left, and I was once again rather pleased with myself. One wheel barrow after the next had been hauled off to a pile at the end of the pasture. Once again I saw my boss rolling up in his truck. I got excited–rather proud of myself for my excellence.

“What’s taking you so long?” he asked.

I started fuming. I could feel my blood rushing to my head and a flood of frustration building up.

“Hey, I’m just trying to do a good job for you,” I calmly managed to reply.

“Well, it doesn’t have to be perfect,” he said. “Perfect takes too long and isn’t necessary. Just do ninety percent.”

That made me even angrier! It wasn’t so much that I felt like I had just wasted a lot of time and effort (which was true), but I was mostly bent out of shape about the “ninety percent” instruction. Being performance oriented and a perfectionist, I couldn’t handle such an un-measurable statistic.

How does he expect me to know what “ninety percent” of a pile of manure is? I asked myself. For that matter, he didn’t see the whole pile; so how will he know when I’ve succeeded? For all I know, he’ll just come out here, see the ten percent remaining, and make me clean the pasture all over again!

Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt like no matter what you did, you just couldn’t please someone? How did that make you feel? Were you cool with it? Or did you nearly have a nervous breakdown like I did?

If your reaction was like mine, then you might be struggling with Performance Orientation. If not dealt with, this can stifle your creativity and limit your effectiveness in spiritual warfare; so I want to offer you the truth that can set you free!

It’s actually very simple. Sometimes it’s as easy as realizing that God is the only one who we need to please, which is really easy since He’s already pleased with His children. Other times–as in my case–we need to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the root cause of why we think the way we do.

After that experience on the farm, I chose to deal with my frustration through prayer (always a good idea, by he way). I asked the Holy Spirit to show me what event in my life set me on this course of performance orientation.

Instantly, a memory popped into my mind that I hadn’t considered for years. Even though it had been the last thing on my mind for so long, I just knew it felt right.

The memory was of myself as a young child. I had just colored a picture with some crayons and raced to my dad to show him my masterpiece. He looked at it, said, “Very good, son,” and went back to what he was doing. I remembered standing there stunned and tearing up.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“I thought you’d be more excited,” I whimpered back.

“Well,” he replied, “if I get too excited about everything you do, then you won’t know when you’ve really done something well.”

My dad is one of the greatest men of God I’ve ever known; and I know his heart was in the right spot when he said this. But in my young mind, it translated as hurtful. Deep inside, I determined to do everything with intense excellence so that people would get really excited about me…rather than mediorcely pleased.

I began to only tackle things that I could excel at quickly. If too much practice was involved, I would bail. As a result, I loved English in school and hated math. English came naturally, but math was a chore and took practice. I realized that if I “hated” math, then I could have a reason for not putting much time into it.

I would pass the tests, but never turned in homework assignments. I was failing in the gradebook, but succeeding in my mind. After all, anyone can ace a test after doing all the homework and studying. Isn’t it way more amazing to be able to simply pass it without having done the homework or any other preparation? This was Performance Orientation, pure and simple!

This spread throughout all my schoolwork. I was never satisfied with projects and writing assignments because they could always be better. The only things that gave me peace about schoolwork were deadlines because they established an end to my otherwise endless tweaking. Knowing this, I would put projects off until the last-minute so I didn’t have to waste as much time fussing over things.

And that brought me all the way through life until that day on the farm.

The Lord led me through a process of forgiving my dad. Then He revealed a few more instances in my life that reinforced my need to please people and perform, and I walked through the process of forgiveness in those instances as well.

Suddenly, I found a depth of personal inner freedom in Christ that I had never known before! I stopped letting the expectations of people drive my motivation and simply surrendered to the love of God. I found a release of creativity in my life, unhindered by the inner drive to perform for others. Now my creative expressions were purely for the sake of bringing glory to the God who loves me–free from compulsion and full of enjoyment!

Do you want this kind of life? Ask the Lord to reveal what situations in your past may have set you on a course of Performance Orientation. Allow Him to walk you through the process of forgiveness through Christ, and embrace the freedom He gives. Take some time right now to seek the Lord and see what He might do in your life!

God bless!

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2 Responses to “Healing from Performance Orientation”

  1. SLaurainMay 8, 2009 at 10:29 pm #

    Hey Art, Good stuff here. I remember going through a lot of the similar type of stuff as a kid, and I still struggle with it today. But God has freed me from so much of it, and it is such a great feeling. I look forward to reading more stuff from you. Cya on Sunday

  2. AnonymousJune 10, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    Thank you for writing this blog. This was what I needed to read today. As a journalist, I have struggled with PO for many years. Now, working in communications ministry, God is slowing me down considerably and teaching me the difference between seeking perfection to please man and aiming for excellence through my love for Him. I am beginning to understand how much I have focused my entire career and much of my personal life around trying to impress people with my competence and ideas, my creativity and the outcomes of my projects. I have grown tired of working to please and impress people. This approach to life has had a heavy weight on my heart for too long and I am ready to let go. It is painful to work for people’s appreciation, respect and admiration. It is freeing to work hard and do well, simply knowing that no matter what, I am loved by my Almighty God, regardless of what people think or say about my work. I identified so closely with your story, Art, right down to the on Healing from Performance Orientation

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